By James Roche CEO Houseplans.com
Knowing the symbols for doors, windows, cabinetry, and fixtures will help you understand the design.When we plan to build a new home, the floor plan is a treasure map, written in a symbolic language and promising the fulfillment of a dream. When we “read” a floor plan we imagine the simple lines and arc’s stretching into walls, doors and windows, we imagine ourselves in a “home, ” and we wonder how the spaces will feel both empty and filled with life. But the language of floor plans can be subtle. Experienced designers, builders, and home enthusiasts are regularly surprised by how different a finished home feels from what they imagined.
Nick Lee’s Modern Farmhouse Plan #888-13
What is a floor plan?
Floor plans used to be called “blueprints.” They came in a roll and included all of the details required to build (or change) a home. Today, they still contain “building instructions” in the form of multiple pages of drawings, but most house plan are delivered as digital files and can be viewed on a screen or printed out onto regular paper for review, to get bids, or to submit for permits.
A plan “set” is the collection of all of the various individual pages that describe the house. Plan sets usually include: a site plan, building notes, floor plans for each level of the house, framing and roofing plans, electrical plans, plans for the mechanical systems, and construction details. A “Floor Plan” refers to the map of an individual floor. The simplest way to understand a floor plan is to imagine looking down on a doll house without its roof. “Design drawings” are floor plans that include a modest amount of information and are created to communicate a home design to non-professionals. “Working drawings” or “construction drawings” contain much more information: they are used to build the home. For the most part, this article refers to design drawings.
Walls, Windows, and Doors - Plan Symbols and Features
The walls are the strongest visual elements in a floor plan. Walls are represented by parallel lines and may be solid or filled with a pattern. Breaks in walls indicate doors, windows and openings between rooms.
Detail showing doors, walls and windows from Modern Cottage Plan #497-21
You can see in the drawing below that doors are drawn as thin rectangles and may include an arc to indicate the swing direction. Pocket doors are drawn as thin rectangles that disappear into walls. The increasingly popular sliding or “barn” doors are drawn partially open alongside a wall. Windows are breaks in walls crossed by thin lines showing the glass and the frame. Swinging windows (casements) may show a line or an arc to indicate the direction that the window opens.
Stairs are drawn as a series of rectangles usually with a direction arrow indicating whether the stairs travel up to the next higher floor or down. Where the stair rises 3 ft above the floor it is cut with a diagonal line. Stairs above the “cut line” are shown with dashed lines.
Stair detail from Modern Farmhouse Plan 888-1
Furniture, Fixtures, Fittings, and Finishes
Most floor plans show the location of sinks, toilets, and other critical fixtures. Skilled designers focus intently on locating kitchen and bath fixtures because they know that precise layout matters. The placement of a refrigerator in relation to the sink, oven and range can determine if a kitchen is comfortable or awkward. Similarly a toilet placed too close to a vanity, the wall or a door makes a bathroom difficult to use comfortably.
Kitchen plan with fixtures from Cottage Plan #888-10.
Key fixtures and appliances are pretty easy to spot. Look for these symbols:
Designers may include flooring materials in their floor plans to provide scale and help the viewer imagine how a room will feel. Here are some common flooring symbols:
Open to Below
Many new homes have entryways and “great rooms” with extra high ceilings. The lower floor may show the ceiling height numerically with a dashed line indicating the perimeter of the taller space. From the second floor the plans will include a note that a space does not have a floor but is “open to below, ” as shown here.
Measurements - Size and Width, Furniture and Use
More detailed floor plans include “dimension strings” to locate windows, doors, walls and other architectural elements. Dimension strings are drawn parallel to the element with 45º “hash marks” at each end of the dimension string indicating where the measurement starts and ends
Design drawings typically only include individual room dimensions and occasionally measurements for the length and width of the whole house.
Architects may include furniture to help you imagine how a space might be furnished. The experience of the plan is enriched by imagining yourself in the house, lying in bed and looking out your new french doors or sitting on a comfortable sofa sharing a drink with friends. Picturing yourself in the plan makes evaluating a design less abstract and can help you avoid creating rooms and spaces that do not work. Be careful to ensure that any existing furniture that you plan to re-use has similar dimensions to the models in the design. The success of a room can be determined by just a few inches.